An Education “Transformation” in this Decade? Yes!

Throughout a variety of continued blog discussions, there appears to be a lot of repetitive bashing of the current “education system”, as though it were some dystopian governmental monolith, intentionally preserving its status quo through oppression of better ideas for teaching and learning. I suggest, though, that it is doing what it was designed to do, as a product of the Fordist assembly-line factory organization of the first half of the Twentieth Century. We should recognize that, as a vehicle without wings, traditional education cannot provide effective and relevant learning experiences for ALL students, as we wish. Further criticism won’t change the situation.

 

What is missing, though, are the understandings we have gained with a “PostModernist World View” which has evolved in latter half of the century. Von Bertalanffy, Boulding, and Beers (The “Three B’s” ?), among others, have given us “systems thinking” methods of looking a structures and relationships among  organizations to make them more efficient and cost-effective. Deming’s techniques of measuring quality can be also used to improve the rates of “success”, even when applied within that factory model.

 

Computer processing speed and displays now let us interact with modeling constructions so that we may visualize how natural, social, and education systems and processes work, to simulate alternatives, and to predict possible outcomes. Most recently, the use of digital media, wide-bandwidth communications, and data storage capacity have made quality content information available to the far reaches of the globe. We are also learning techniques of informatics for analysis and to make real-time recommendations about various choices students, teachers, and administrators can make, much as Amazon tracks and suggests our online shopping experiences. Also, the science of complexity has provided various “non-linear” ways of looking at learning and education as diverse, evolutionary, and emergent processes, utilizing effective strategies from gaming theory, graph theory, and risk management to improve the sustainability of our current and future societies.

 

So I see this decade as an exciting time in which a true transformation in education can occur, when the perspectives of “Systems, Quality, Modeling, Informatics, and Complexity (SQMIC)” are implemented. I feel these five perspectives are parts of “WKID Intelligence”, a substrate underlying the typical content areas  of STEM, the “Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS), as well as “Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (HPER)”.  Access to a variety of interactive “apps” would provide tools to assist learning, as technology skills needed in a global economy, and would also be part of the organizational processes that guide their learning experiences.

 

Rather than an assembly of instructional components put in place and tested at certain times, learners could become designers of their own understandings of their world, by developing data into information, building that into the knowledge they need for entry into society, and, hopefully, gaining wisdom enough to become successful. Much like the “3-D printers” we are seeing these days, education could become an efficient, effective, and customized production and delivery system that morphs out of rigid traditional modes, and truly becomes a “Comprehensive STEM Curriculum Framework for the 21st Century”.

STEM as a Sandwich? Might be good!

Technology, as a whole, is an important part of the STEM curriculum in that it shares some “habits of mind”, as compared to the language, arts, and social science subject areas. While science utilizes the scientific method to understand principles of matter and energy in our world, we find that mathematics allows us to quantify those principles and make predictions by utilizing rigorous proofs, and engineering gives us a “built world” that gives us utility, survivability, and (hopefully) sustainability as a global society. Technology’s role is for the use, operation, and maintenance of that built world. Principles, proofs, and designs have no value to us unless they are put into action in our lives and communities. And we need technical people to keep that clockwork machinery running.

 

So what Technology brings to the STEM curriculum, I think, is that every high school graduate needs: to know how to put those “Owner’s Manuals” to use for all those gadgets they have; an awareness of the ‘”theory of operation” of how those devices work; recognition of dangerous situations and safety precautions; and some sense of a troubleshooting process when things aren’t working right. These skills and practices are exactly those critical-thinking and problem-solving techniques that are supposed to be part of an overall high school curriculum.

 

Yet these “modes of thought” should not get too tangled up in specific products or occupational fields. In my suggestions for a “Comprehensive STEM Curriculum Framework for the 21st Century”, those options would be provided in the third dimension of “Applied Career Preparation Pathways”, such as: Agriculture, Business, Communications, Construction, Health, Information Technology, Marketing, Manufacturing, and Transportation, among others.

 

So once learners develop “Core Content Competencies” of the STEM topics, to the step of a “Basic Workplace Skill Set” needed for entry into a desired occupational level, they can explore the career pathways of their choice as applications of where their “S, E, and M” knowledge is put to use. This would also be most appropriate for longer term projects, small-group interactions, and so forth. The technology aspects of the STEM curriculum, then, would be “capstones” to the essentials of the traditional courses, and infused throughout the programs, rather than distinct courses in themselves.

 

Likewise, the techniques of “information” would be tapped into where appropriate, including those involving Systems, Quality, Modeling, Informatics, and Complexity (SQMIC). We can integrate the traditional STEM subjects by building on a substrate of these “Big I = Information” tools, while overlaying them with options leading to applications in various career pathways. High school graduates would be much better prepared for life and work, I believe, with such an integrated “sandwich” curriculum, than the “silo” or “stovepipe” traditional structure in common use.

Transforming the STEM Curriculum with an Integrated 3-D Framework

In my suggestions on various discussion groups for a “Comprehensive STEM Curriculum Framework for the 21st Century”, I describe the need for a multi-dimensional view using a transformational “systems approach” to these subject areas, particularly at the high school and college levels.

The first dimension is to provide greater integration among the four STEM disciplines to an integrated “Content Information and Knowledge Space” (CIKS), in which the relationships and links between topics are made, using Horn’s Information Mapping techniques. With interactive tablet technology and “Cloud” storage resources, navigation paths through this content should become easier in this coming decade.

The “complexity” of the content information should be clearly described with a ladder of progressive “Basic Workplace Skill Sets” (BWSS) that establish the expectations of what learners should know when they graduate at any educational level. These skill sets would also include the creative and relationship abilities that would be integrated from the “Communication, Creative, Cultural, and Social Arts” (CCCSA or 3CSA) part of the overall curriculum. These might be considered to be the “action verbs” that make the “nouns of content” relevant and useful. This dimension could be measured through a [Bloom, Webb] Cognitive Rigor Matrix (CRM), to ensure that these teaching and learning activities are actually provided in the courses.

The third dimension would be to deliver those activities through various “Applied Career Preparation Pathways” (ACPP), in which students could select typical “real world” problems from a number of career paths, such as: Business, Construction, Health, Information Technology, Manufacturing, Transportation, etc. If prepared questions, projects, and resources could be made available to STEM instructors and classes, the higher CRM activities could be performed by individuals and small groups to explore areas of their own interests. These could also be activities that look at the broader social and global impacts of the STEM subjects, which was (is?) an effort of the Science-Technology-Society (STS) initiative that was a precursor to STEM.

So within this three-dimensional framework for STEM, the area of responsibility of the first direction would primarily be with the STEM faculties to integrate the content information itself. The “Arts” folks would need to provide direction and materials for the implementation of effective practices that engage the students with problem-solving and creative activities, using the content as the “objects of manipulation”. Finally, the Career & Technical Education” (CTE) instructors and the larger business and workplace communities need to provide the direction and materials for the career preparation activities and standards for the skill sets. It looks like this is everybody’s job.